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eNeuro. 2018 Apr 16;5(2). pii: ENEURO.0084-18.2018. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0084-18.2018. eCollection 2018 Mar-Apr.

Cortical Measures of Phoneme-Level Speech Encoding Correlate with the Perceived Clarity of Natural Speech.

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School of Engineering, Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, and Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland.
Department of Pediatrics and Department of Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461.
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Neuroscience, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627.


In real-world environments, humans comprehend speech by actively integrating prior knowledge (P) and expectations with sensory input. Recent studies have revealed effects of prior information in temporal and frontal cortical areas and have suggested that these effects are underpinned by enhanced encoding of speech-specific features, rather than a broad enhancement or suppression of cortical activity. However, in terms of the specific hierarchical stages of processing involved in speech comprehension, the effects of integrating bottom-up sensory responses and top-down predictions are still unclear. In addition, it is unclear whether the predictability that comes with prior information may differentially affect speech encoding relative to the perceptual enhancement that comes with that prediction. One way to investigate these issues is through examining the impact of P on indices of cortical tracking of continuous speech features. Here, we did this by presenting participants with degraded speech sentences that either were or were not preceded by a clear recording of the same sentences while recording non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG). We assessed the impact of prior information on an isolated index of cortical tracking that reflected phoneme-level processing. Our findings suggest the possibility that prior information affects the early encoding of natural speech in a dual manner. Firstly, the availability of prior information, as hypothesized, enhanced the perceived clarity of degraded speech, which was positively correlated with changes in phoneme-level encoding across subjects. In addition, P induced an overall reduction of this cortical measure, which we interpret as resulting from the increase in predictability.


EEG; cortical entrainment; intelligibility; phonetics; predictive coding; prior knowledge

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